We´ve all been there… just as you get in a great routine and your baby or toddler is finally sleeping longer stretches BAM something happens. They either suddenly stop falling asleep at a reasonable time, start waking up at ungodly hours of the morning or a combination of the two. It´s not fun!
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So let´s look over the 10 most common reasons why babies and toddlers have difficulty falling asleep and give you some tips for a good night´s sleep!
1. It´s Too Hot or Too Cold
No-one, your baby or toddler included sleep´s well when they are too warm or too cold. The ideal temperature for your child’s room is cooler than you probably think! 16-20°C or 60.8°F – 68°F. Even if the room temperature is correct you may be over or under dressing your child.
Make sure the room temperature is between 16-20°C or 60.8°F – 68°F, you can place a thermometer in the room – this one actually changes color to visually tell you if the room is too hot or cold how cool is that! – or use a baby monitor with a built-in thermometer.
It´s also important to open the windows of your child´s room during the day to make sure the room gets plenty of fresh air. Fresh air equals better sleep after all!
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You also want to pay attention to the seasons and dress your child appropriately. Try to avoid any bedding or pajamas with synthetic materials (yes I´m talking about those fleecy onesies). Ideally, all your child’s bedding and nightwear should be 100% cotton. If you are worried about your child being too cold in winter, you can always use a 100% cotton sleep bag like this one that is suitable for all seasons.
2. The Room Is Too Bright (Or Dark!)
Most babies sleep better in the dark. But for some toddlers, a completely pitch black room can also be scary. They wake up, can´t see anything, get scared and then truly wake up.
Darken the room only so far that your child can still dimly recognize the furniture and the door. If you use a nightlight opt for a red colored light as blue light not only inhibits melatonin levels but makes the room much brighter.
3. Teething Pains
I don´t know about you but when I have a toothache falling asleep is extremely difficult! Most babies start teething around 6 months, so around this time you can expect some disturbed sleep. However, there are some things you can do to help your little one feel more comfortable and get the rest they need.
Teething rings may help in the day, but your child won’t (and shouldn´t) be chewing on them at night. While there are plenty of gels to numb your child’s gums, many contain sugar and even alcohol. If you do choose to use a teething gel at night use one like Winks Natural Cool Gums as it contains no drugs or alcohol!
Alternatively, you can make some chamomile ice pops and let your little one suck on it before bed. The cold will help numb the gums while the chamomile will relax your infant, allowing them to fall asleep peacefully.
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4. There Really Are Monsters Under The Bed!
While there is no date that marks exactly when children will first experience nightmares or being afraid of monsters, it will happen at some point.
All the things your baby or toddler sees and listens to during the day can have a big impact at night. Maybe a character out of a bedtime book, or innocent cartoon or youtube song you had playing in the background can trigger these nightmares. Baby shark anyone?
If your child is old enough to tell you they are scared, take their fears seriously and do not dismiss them with a sentence like ¨monsters do not exist¨ because in their mind THEY DO! no matter how hard you try to convince them.
If it makes them feel safer leave some monster spray aka water in a spray bottle, a flashlight to shine under the bed. Also, you can invent a story in which the monster is shown in a positive light… the monster may hide under the bed to give your child company at night and will not do them any harm for example.
It´s not until children are school aged that they can understand that their fears have nothing to do with ¨reality¨ and then you can reassure them with sentences like ¨monsters don´t exist.¨
They say variety is the spice of life, which is great! but for young babies and toddlers routine is key! Having a routine doesn´t mean you can´t be spontaneous or have to live every second by the clock. You can have a flexible routine!
Think about it for a second…, chances are you follow some sort of routine! Your morning coffee? Brushing your teeth and showering every morning? Taking your contact lenses out every night before bed? Those are all routines.
Routines help keep children on track and know what to expect next. If your child is accustomed to sleeping at 8 pm and then suddenly you change their bedtime to 7 pm, chances are they will not want to go to sleep or be tired yet.
Try to follow a consistent routine. It doesn´t have to be by the clock exactly but more the flow of the day so to speak. For example dinner, wind-down hour, bath, pajamas, bedtime story, sleep.
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6. Growing Pains
Growing pains, (crampy, achy muscle pains that usually affect the legs) are common in preschool and elementary school children. Although the cause of growing pains is not clear, it is thought to be related to a nighttime release of growth hormones.
Give your child an Epsom salt bath. The magnesium helps to alleviate tired, sore and achey muscles. Follow the bath with a gentle massage or light stretching exercises.
7. I´m Still Hungry Mom!
Children will often attempt to delay bedtime by asking for more water, food, cuddles… you get the picture. However, sometimes they may truly be hungry! If you´re serving dinner at 5 pm and they fall asleep at 9 pm they may very well have a rumbling tummy!
Offer a bedtime snack 40 minutes before they should be asleep. I like to make sure that the snack is a sleep-promoting food, as then I know it will help them fall asleep and fill their tummy.
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8. Too Much and Too Late Screen Time
While there may be some wonderful bedtime stories on YouTube or the T.V., they shouldn´t be included in the bedtime ritual or even 2 hours before it. Spending too much time sitting in front of screens can impact our bodies ability to fall asleep.
Avoid screen-time (including iPads) for at least 2 hours before bed. Read some books, play some games, or go out for an early evening walk with the family dog. Also, try to avoid as much artificial lighting as possible, keep rooms in natural lighting, or dimly lit, to allow melatonin levels to rise sufficiently before bedtime.
9. Can´t Switch Off
Sometimes the day´s activities can leave even adults laying awake in bed with excitement, thoughts, or even fears. Children can also very easily get overtired and instead of just falling asleep instantly usually, the opposite happens…they start jumping off the walls.
During your bedtime routine or the hour leading up to it, let your child tell you about their day, what made them excited? What made them scared, etc.
Talk in a calm and understanding voice. Ask them to participate in a calming activity like yoga for kids (and you can join in too mom!), and remove all distractions. Keep the house and rooms as calm as possible.
If your toddler or baby is overtired and bouncing around, do the bedtime routine and then sit and cuddle with them in the complete dark in their bed… yes I mean pitch black! (It works trust me!)
They might wiggle and blabber on for a few minutes, but when they can´t see anything and only feel your body snuggled up next to them, they will calm down very fast and be asleep before you know it!… Switch off the nightlight if you’re doing this too…even the lowest lighting will help them spot the toy they want to play with!
10. I Want My Old Bed!
We all sleep best in our own familiar comfy bed right? The same applies to children, although they may think that your bed is theirs! Changing from the crib into a toddler bed can be daunting and cost many children their sleep.
If traveling and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, bring something with them from their own bed, a blanket or favorite teddy, something that smells and reminds them of home.
For children moving from the crib into a new bed can be exciting and scary at the same time. The best way is for your child to tell you they are ready to sleep in their new big bed. Let them be part of the process, from choosing some nice sheets, or even helping to choose the bed!